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The first leader I ever met was my mother. Her life is a series of sacrifices that society often writes-off and disguises as the necessary duties of any woman. At 19, my mother left her own family and moved to Canada, a country where she didn’t know the language, or the people. By my age, now 26, she had lost a daughter, and she had me, her seventh child. I am what some academics call “the radical middle” … And what some parents call, the “malignant middle.” As a young child I was a handful – I was curious and inventive – my mom not only tolerated that, she fostered it. Not the telling tall tales part, but the ambition. The curiosity.
My childhood was riddled with daily evidence of my mother’s courage. I saw my oldest sister, Amera, graduate from medical school at 22 and go on to become a renowned pediatric plastic surgeon, inspiring myself and my entire community. I saw my older sister Ahlam choose to be a stay at home mom, and go on to create the same environment for her own children that my mother had created for me. In both these cases – opposite life paths, they received the same enthusiasm and support from my mom. Her definition of leadership was to nurture the necessary confidence and build the skills for her daughters to make their own decisions.
As I grew older, I would go to her, in the middle of the night, first with ideas of my culinary career (until I realized – I don’t like to cook), then ideas of my medical career, and later with ideas of the global peacebuilding capacity of women. Every time, her eyes would shine and she would feed the ideas in my brain with her experience, and with her belief in me. And when it got difficult? When I wanted to quit? She was my courage, my backbone, and even 6000 miles away, the greatest online enthusiast on my behalf.
As a peace and security policy maker and advisor, what I do daily is not courageous. It comes from a sensibility my mother’s courage has given me. I wake up daily with the reassurance of hundreds and thousands of local leaders whose courage has afforded me the comfort of making peace out of reason. Their daily courage allows all of us to exercise strategy when addressing global challenges. The knowledge that these local leaders will keep the lights on, the schools open and the electricity running provides us with the space to deliberate, measure and even unfortunately, sometimes ignore global crises.
This is the leadership we do not recognize in today’s world; the leadership which lives every day for peace. Our definition often focuses solely on leadership in its most visible form. We discount young leaders, and our definition usually overlooks local and community leaders – the ones whose daily presence and struggles, whose compassion and integrity make the larger movements more possible. It may come as no surprise to many of you, that these local leaders, particularly in the over 60 conflict areas around the world, are women.
This is the leadership we do not recognize in today’s world; the leadership which lives every day for peace.
The women, the mothers, doctors, CEOs, painters, astronauts, artists, athletes and reporters whose very existence and presence is a sign of defiance to the injustices of climate change in the Marshall Islands, to food scarcity in Sudan, to child marriage in Niger, to sexual violence in the refugee camps of Zaatari and Dadaab, to extremism in Libya, to the effects of extractive corporations in Latin America, and to the manipulation and control of women’s bodies globally. This is the leadership which has quietly created the space for all of us. It is time we widen our definition of leadership so that it encompasses those leaders. The ones on the front line every day – in whatever capacity it may be – who create the possibility of a peaceful tomorrow.
It is time we teach young girls and boys that they are leaders – that they can be leaders. Be it in their own homes and communities, or globally. I know my story is part of a global story, and that I owe a debt to my mother and all the leaders who came before me: the women who have the courage to leave their own homes to provide more for their children, and the women who have had the courage to play music or teach young girls when disparaged by societies whispers or threatened by the barrel of gun.
I also know that I have a duty to every child to recognize and cultivate their own sense of leadership, because had it not been for my mother, I would not have recognized or claimed my own space to lead.
Alaa Murabit was a panelist at the Moms +SocialGood event on May 5. Hear her thoughts on gender equality.
You share, they give: Each time you ‘like’ or share this post via the social media icons on this post or comment below, Johnson & Johnson will donate $1 (per action) up to $350,000 to Shot@Life, Girl Up, Peace Corps Let Girls Learn Fund, U.S. Fund for UNICEF and Nothing But Nets.
The Global Moms Relay was created by the United Nations Foundation and Johnson & Johnson with support from BabyCenter, Global Citizen and Fatherly, to help improve the lives of families around the globe. Share this post with the hashtags #GlobalMom and #JNJ, and visit GlobalMomsRelay.org to learn more.
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